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Crossrail project uncovers secrets of Bedlam burial ground

Excavations carried out last summer Photo: Crossrail

A Crossrail research project has uncovered the names and backgrounds of over 5,000 Londoners buried in Bedlam burial ground in Liverpool Street, in the City of London.

In June 2014, Crossrail invited 16 volunteers to scour parish records from across the capital to create the first extensive list of people buried at Bedlam in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

The resulting database, published today, will inform Crossrail’s archaeological excavation of the eastern entrance of Liverpool Street Crossrail station, which begins in March and will see around 3,000 skeletons excavated. It also sheds light on a tumultuous period of London’s history.

According to the research, Dr John Lamb, an astrologer and advisor to the First Duke of Buckingham, is among those buried at the site. Lamb was said to have been stoned to death by an angry mob outside a theatre in 1628 following allegations of rape and black magic. Others identified in the research include Sir Ambrose Nicholas, Lord Mayor of London in 1575 and victims of riots by ‘Fanatiques,’ noted in the diaries of Samuel Pepys in January 1661.

Plague was the most common listed form of death, followed by infant mortality and consumption. The burial ground was established in 1569 to help parishes cope with overcrowding during outbreaks of plague and other epidemics.

Researchers have been going through parish archives Credit: Crossrail

This research is a window into one of the most turbulent periods of London’s past. These people lived through Civil Wars, the Restoration, Shakespeare’s plays, the birth of modern industry, plague and the Great Fire. It is a real privilege (...) to uncover more knowledge about this fascinating period of history. Our heartfelt thanks go to the volunteer researchers, who have contributed immensely to Crossrail’s legacy.

– Jay Carver, lead archaeologist, Crossrail

The archaeological excavations at Liverpool Street are undertaken by Museum of London Archaeology on behalf of Crossrail. Scientific analysis of up to 3,000 skeletons will provide new insights into the lives and deaths of early modern Londoners. The upcoming dig is also expected to uncover medieval and Roman artefacts and help piece together centuries of history. After excavation the skeletons will be reburied on consecrated ground.

So far, Crossrail has found more than 10,000 artefacts spanning 55 million years of London’s history across over 40 construction sites. It is the UK’s largest archaeology project, carefully programmed in advance to ensure delivery of the new east west railway on time and within budget.

Liverpool Street is one of 10 new Crossrail stations being built in central and southeast London.

An architect's impression of how the re-developed station will look Credit: Crossrail